Category Archives: Bible Thoughts
This past Sunday during the sermon (Genesis 5:1-6:8) it was raining like it was the days of Noah during the flood. At least that’s what it sounded like with our building’s metal roof. I could barely hear myself think so I decided to jettison the second half of the sermon, and when I did I promised a blog concerning the questions I was sure people were wondering.
Before I try to answer the questions of inquiring minds, I want to reiterate what I said on Sunday. It is fine to ask questions and wonder, but be careful that tertiary concerns don’t distract you from Jesus who is the fulfillment and end of all the scriptures (John 5:39; Ephesians 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Yes, be eager to learn – be a sponge – but if it doesn’t help you follow Jesus with all your heart and mind, what good is to you in eternity? Always keep in mind that the author could have said many more things than were written, but the author whose writings are inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 20:30; 2 Timothy 3:16), was intending to tell you something about the triune and only true God. Sometimes we wonder about things in the text that the author did not mean to answer and we must be careful not to chase those rabbits too far down the hole of fruitless distraction. Therefore, we must always be careful to stay teachable but we must also say what we can say for sure so that we don’t get lost chasing speculations that have no firm answer. The Bible is not just a book of ancient curiosity, but a book of special revelation that points us to the way ,the truth and the life (John 14:6). We must keep our eyes on the intended authorial meaning, and we must make essential truth our rallying point for unity.
Now back to my promise and the reason you are likely reading. Genesis 5:1-6:8 is a faith-testing passage because it has verses that many have questions about, but it also has verses that may cause us to question whether we can trust the Bible.
Here are four questions that I suspect many people had from Sunday’s passage.
- How can I (we) trust the Bible when it says that people lived almost 1,000 years in Genesis 5:1-32? To get the ball rolling, there are living things on earth that live a long time compared to the life expectancy of humans. For instance, Ming the deep-sea clam lived 507 years. I don’t know how humans verified that scientifically, but let’s give Ming the benefit of the doubt. A bristle-cone pine is capable of living up to 5,000 years. So there are living things that can live a really long time – for whatever that is worth. But humans living upwards to a thousand years? Seems more mythical than factual – right? By the way, can you imagine having a child when you are 815 years? I can barely keep up with my children at the age of 40. If you presuppose a human can’t live that long under any circumstance, then I suppose nothing will convince you otherwise. I suggest you stop reading here and get on to more important things because life is short these days. In the United States the life expectancy is a bout 80 years on average. However, in Genesis 3:22 Moses records the LORD God saying that had the man and woman taken from the tree of life and eaten, they would have lived forever. It appears then that never-perishing bodies was the original intent. But sin happened and death came just as promised (Genesis 2:17). Also remember Genesis chapter one, that God creates with awesome power by speaking the creation into being. Is it really so hard to believe that God can create a human that can live a thousand years if He can speak into being the universe in all its magnificent enormity? Would not a thousand years seem like a moment to an eternal God? Jeremiah 32:17 proclaims: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah is right in that if God can create, then is it too hard for Him to sustain eternally (Hebrew 1:1-4)? If you believe in God and believe He is there, do you not have enough faith to expect that He would be God-like and extraordinary in what He is able to do? Don’t you believe in a God for whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)? Perhaps you, or someone else might say, “Well, I just can’t believe in miracles like immortal elves (The Lord of the Rings) or virgin births (Matthew 1).” “Christians believe in the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” – (Glen Scrivener) One worldview says there is a cause and the other(s) says we don’t know – at least not yet. If there is a creator God, we have to give Him all the credit He deserves as the God for whom all things are possible. In no way am I suggesting that we should have a non-wondering, blind faith. We should observe the creation and wonder so that we might wander at God. Faith is based on knowledge. But having said that, why is it so hard to believe that an eternal God can be trusted to sustain people for hundreds of years on planet earth? If you believe the Bible, you do believe God will speak you into being for all eternity – right? 1,000 years doesn’t seem that long when you think about it that way.
- Who are the sons of God? I read no fewer than five commentaries and the one point they all agreed on is that this is greatly debated and there is no scholarly consensus. On the other hand, John MacArthur is quite sure he knows what it means and I find his arguments to be very compelling. You can read his sermon and argument here – DEMONIC INVASION. MacArthur argues that the “sons of God” (Job 38:7) are demons who possess men that results in child-producing relationships with the “daughters of men”. MacArthur says this is one of the reasons the people of that time were considered so wicked by the LORD God (6:5). Their activity was literally demonic. Some have pointed out that Matthew 22:30 suggests that angels are spirit-beings that are incapable of sexual relations and therefore the angel/demon hypothesis should be dismissed on these grounds, but MacArthur counters with the idea that these demons were simply inhabiting men who could reproduce. The other option is that the “sons of God” were simply the Seth-ites, or those from the line of Seth; Adam’s youngest son mentioned in Genesis chapter four. John H. Sailhammer contends that chapter six of Genesis is a summary description of people doing what people do. Namely, they were living life, flourishing (Gen. 4:17-22) and multiplying according to the blessing of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Jesus said in Matthew 24:38, “For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage…” There are other options, but these two seem to me to be the best. The question must be asked, however, what in these verses suggests that God’s merciful patience had come to an end (6:3)? Why would He say that they would have 120 more years to repent (6:3) and then judgment would come by way of flood? The demonic solution seems to be the best answer, but as for me, I am still undecided. But what can we say for sure? Here is my answer. With human flourishing came the flourishing of wickedness and the LORD God was grieved and ready to act in judgment. Wickedness was run-a-muck, and God had had enough.
- Who are the Nephilim? In Genesis 6:4, Moses tells us that they were on the earth when the sons of God were having children with the daughters of men, and that they were mighty men with legend-like reputations. The only other time the name Nephilim is used in the scriptures is Number 13:33 when the spies report what they saw in the promised land. “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” From Numbers 13:33 we can conclude that the Nephilim were a large people – a giant-like people. Perhaps the spies and those who were with them as they plotted to enter the promised land remembered Genesis 6:4 and decided to describe the people they saw with the name: Nephilim? Keep in mind, that the only people who survived the flood, according to the Bible, were Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives. So the Nephilim the spies encountered, would not be the descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. The most we might conclude then is that the Nephilim in Gensis 6 were large and mighty. But take note of what the text explicitly says about them: “Those were mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” Moses speaks of them as exceptional mortal men and he speaks of them in the past tense. Maybe they were those mentioned in the line of Cain (4:17-22) who were renowned due to the human flourishing that came about in their time. Nevertheless, twice he takes care to emphasize that they are men. They are not aliens. They are not part demon and part human. They are men. Why does Moses mention this? MacArthur suggests that some in his time may have thought they were super-humans because they were part demon and part human, and therefore, Moses is dismissing this myth and saying there is no such thing and the people he is leading shouldn’t think demon mingling will help them. There are angels and demons, and there are humans, but there are no demon-humans. One final suggestion. The Nephilim are those in the line of Cain, and their giant-sized bodies were the sign that God gave to protect Cain from retaliation for killing Abel (4:13-15). Remember though that Cain’s line would have been wiped out by the flood, since Noah was of Seth’s line. So the Nephilim of Numbers 13:33 were not the result of God’s sign of protection to those who the spies saw. So what can we say for sure? The people Moses was writing to must have known what he was talking about, and whatever he meant to teach with this obscure mention of the Nephilim, we can be contextually sure that God was going to judge the world unless there was repentance.
- Was God admitting He was wrong to make man in Genesis 6:5-7? A few translations suggest that the LORD God was brought to repentance – a change of mind that leads to a change of action – because of the wickedness of the humans He created. Other translations say God was sorry, remorseful and that He regretted that He had made humans. Does this passage teach that God was wrong and He needed to change His mind in a repentance sort-of-way? The LORD God was patient for well over a thousand years before He declared that He was going to give mankind 120 years to repent before the flood delivered judgment (6:3). He desired that His crowning achievement repent. He felt anguish and disappointment that men and women had chose to go their own way instead of God’s way. These are the words that Moses chose to communicate the way the LORD God felt. One commentary described God’s response to wickedness this way: “God is not robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner’s rebellion. Acknowledging the emotions of God does not diminish the immutability (unchangeable-ness) of His promissory purposes. Rather, His feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with his essential person and just and gracious resolve.” God does not repent of wrong, though He grieves and anguishes over it. What we witness in this passage is a personal God who has been deeply wronged by a close friend and so He experiences all the feelings that accompany betrayal. John MacArthur, who does not have a reputation of being a feely-kind-of-preacher, explained it this way: ‘”The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart.” This is what He felt. He felt sadness. He felt grief over what man had become. And the Lord expressed that sorrow in human terms. It was as if He was sorry He made them. Obviously God isn’t sorry in the sense that He was getting information He didn’t expect. He wasn’t sorry in the sense that it hadn’t turned out the way He thought it would, He knew exactly how it would turn out. But that didn’t make Him any less sorrowful and it didn’t make man any less guilty. And His sadness is not tied to some surprise, but His sadness is tied to the fact that He has no choice. His holiness demands destruction. It is necessary, it is inevitable, it is consistent with who He is. His holy nature has no choice but to punish him, and that brings Him grief. So we saw what the Lord saw and we read what the Lord felt.’ If God is incapable of wrong, then He is not perfectly holy, and if God is not perfectly holy, why do we have to repent and why are we judged for violated a infinitely righteous God. In Genesis 6:5-7, we get a snapshot of the LORD God who grieves over the just punishment that sin requires.
I don’t know if I have helped? I have tried to model thinking through these challenging questions in a biblical way, while challenging us to keep our eye on what the Bible is clearly teaching. It grows our faith in God to think through these things and be challenged by them. At the end of the day, you will either believe God, yourself or someone else. Trust Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One. The Bible, even the Old Testament, is ultimately about Him (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
I have said repeatedly over the last several weeks that God’s word is so powerfully necessary that without it we would cease to exist. To say it another way: God is constantly speaking us into being and without the sustaining word of God, we would be no more.
This week for our Q&A Podcast, we received several questions as to where this idea was found in the scriptures.
Hebrews 1:3 declares: “And He (Jesus) is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
The word “uphold” can also be translated “sustains” or “to cause to continue in a state or condition.” (BDAG: Bauer’s Greek and English Lexicon). Additionally, the grammar of the word is that of an ongoing action by the subject (Jesus). Jesus, the son of God, is constantly sustaining the creation by the speaking of His powerful, life-sustaining word.
The God of the Bible is not the god of the deist. God did not create the world, wind it up and remove Himself from it. He is intimately involved in its ongoing existence and preservation.
One other text is worthy of mentioning. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, proclaims in Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Jesus is holding all things together! How? By His sustaining voice (Heb. 1:3).
What would happen if Jesus quit speaking you, me and the rest of the world into being? Would anything exist? Would anyone know?
Yet another reason to praise the God of gods, through Jesus Christ.
For me, seeing a real rainbow never gets old. When a rainbow is present I want to look and gaze upon its vivid and contrasting design. The rainbow is a stunning work of art and its appearance also reminds me of God’s promise to mankind that He will never again destroy all living flesh by flood (Genesis 9:11-15). The rainbow is beautiful and attractive in both appearance and meaning.
As we look back and take comfort from the biblical meaning of the rainbow, we must not forget that the promise was made because judgment came. If we forget the judgment, then we will also fail to see the beauty of the rainbow for all it is worth. When we sing our children’s songs about Noah, the flood and the mud, it often escapes us that the ark was necessary and the rainbow created because God is perfectly holy and the world was and is wicked, and the thing about wickedness is this: it is all-the-way-wicked (Romans 3:10-20) before an all-the-way-Holy God. Let’s be honest, we don’t want to sing about the righteous judgment that wickedness has earned, because to imagine and believe it offends our modern sensibilities and therapeutic constructs. Not to mention, we would no longer want to sing it to our children. Many would rather just make the rainbow mean what they want it to mean, despite the fact that it means promise was given on the other side of judgment, and we simply cannot see the beauty of the promise and fully appreciate it unless we are honest about the just judgment.
The cross is like the rainbow. I love the cross and I exult in it’s promise and meaning. I, just like every single person on the face of God’s blue, green and brown earth, have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and worshiped the creation instead of the creator. I have repeatedly tried to live by my own design and way instead of by God’s perfect design and ways. I have been wicked and rebellious toward a holy God who has revealed Himself and His way through nature, innate morality and through His saving and written revelation. For this reason, I deserve the suffering, shame and judgment of the cross. I have earned the overwhelming flood of God’s wrath and righteous judgment, but Jesus took my place and absorbed the wrath that I deserved, and promised that if I would give up my rebellion and believe in His sacrifice and resurrection, the cross would be to me like a rainbow and a promise. But again, the true beauty of the cross can’t be seen until we acknowledge the wrath of God poured out on sin. The wrath of God poured out on Jesus is the backdrop for the mercy of God through faith in Christ that makes the cross so vividly beautiful – as is true of the rainbow because of the judgment that preceded it.
Today, as is true of many things, the rainbow and the cross have been made to mean something other than what was originally intended. As we see both the rainbow and the cross draped, paraded, worn and flashed everywhere, I pray God will remind us that both are warnings of judgment, but they also proclaim there is mercy for sin. For those who suppress the truth and reject Jesus and His ways, its not a pretty picture. For those who trust in Christ and obey His ways, the rainbow and cross are vividly beautiful.
In Mark 13 Jesus:
- Predicts the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (V. 2)
- Prepares His followers for hard times (VV. 5-23)
- Promises that He will make a cosmic return (VV. 24-27)
- Pleads with us to be ready for hard times and His return (VV. 28-37).
While Jesus was teaching His disciples about a local and near-future event in Mark 13:1-23, He was also preparing later followers for difficult times. We all will face disaster in this life, whether it is personal or by way of other relationships, tough times are coming our way (John 16:33).
What can been done to prepare for the return of Christ and such difficult times? How does a Christian get ready for a disaster; a doomsday scenario?
In Mark 13:33, 34, 35 and 37, Jesus commands us to “be alert!.” Just always be ready. We must pay attention. Below are some “dos” and “don’ts” that will help followers of Christ prep for hard times.
- Don’t be misled by false saviors (vv 5-6, 21-22). How many times since Jesus walked on earth has someone abused a crisis to take advantage of people? Evil people love to take advantage of disaster victims. When a large storm hits an area, you can be sure that scam-artists will be out trying to take advantage of desperate, unsuspecting people. The way to protect from being misled is by knowing the Bible well, and by committing our lives to a body of believers we can trust to help us in tough times.
- Do learn to recognize the return of Jesus is imminently close (vv 28-29). Whether by death or by the second coming of Christ, we are closer now than since He came the first time. The latter statement is a “duh” kind-of statement, but we need to constantly be reminding ourselves of this fact so that we will live with urgent readiness.
- Don’t be frightened (v 7). It is human to be afraid, it’s not okay to be enslaved and driven by fear.
- Do believe the promises of Jesus (v 31). Just as we can read history and see that Jesus was right about the destruction of the temple, so we also know that Jesus has never failed to fulfill a promise.
- Don’t be caught off guard (v 9). The best way to navigate hard times is to prepare for them long before they are encountered. We must have a prepared theology of disaster and suffering because when difficulty comes, it is not the ideal time for a theological discourse on why bad things happen and how God can use evil for good (Romans 8:28). We need to have our convictions about these things lined out long before we need to apply them. It’s not a good idea to wait until the day you die to get all your legal matters in order, and neither should a person wait until life comes unraveled to figure out whether they really believe God is good.
- Men must lead and protect their homes with urgency! Where did I get that from Mark 13? Chapter 13 is the judgment and result of chapter 12. What does chapter 12 teach us? It teaches us that the Jewish leaders wanted to be in control instead of trusting and obeying God, which is why they fought Jesus every step of the way to the cross. People suffer when unrighteous leaders lead! Men are the leaders of their homes and we must determine to be the Godly husbands and fathers that God commanded them to be (Genesis 2:15-18; Ephesians 5:21-6:4)
- Don’t be flaky (v 13). We live in a world in which a lot of people are “stressed” and “under pressure”, and some of it is real. Unfortunately, many use it as an excuse not to honor their word and commitments. Difficulty is a part of life in a broken world, so to endure in our discipleship to Jesus and our personal relationships to others, we have to preach to ourselves the gospel of Jesus and remind ourselves that our perseverance will be worth it (Mark 10:30).
- Don’t try to guess the day or the hour, and be aware of people who do. Three times (VV. 32, 33, 35) Jesus declares that no one knows the day or the hour. It appears a whole lot of people (mainly best-selling authors) missed those verses. Many would be better off if they quit trying to guess the times and started making the most of the fleeting time they have.
- Do be prepared – always! If we don’t know the precise time for life disasters or the return of Jesus, then we need to live prepared all the time. If we are living for Christ through the little disasters, we will be ready for the ultimate event; whenever it is and whatever it looks like. “Vigilance, not calculation is required.” William Lane
- Do love the gospel. For those who trust and love the suffering Messiah, the Son of God, the gospel is good news about bad news. With the gospel there is always hope (Mark 13:13).
I wish I wouldn’t have said that!
It seemed like a good thing to say at the time, but just a moment later I was wishing for a do-over. Surely I could have said something more constructive and hopeful!
I was on a morning walk through the neighborhood at around 6:45 a.m. when I saw one of our dedicated Richmond Rocket Teachers getting in her car, to go to the classroom to invest in the lives of children who were created in the image of God. We exchanged some very normal greetings and then I said “it”.
Brace yourself for my well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at encouragement.
“You have made it to Thursday. You are over half way there!”
After I said it, I wished her a great day and began to think about what I said, what it meant and what it implied. I don’t know how the statement was received, and I have no reason to think that it was taken adversely, but with every step I took I was increasingly bothered by it.
Is this simply me being overly self-critical, too analyticical? Both are possible, but the gnawing at my conscience was telling me otherwise.
My statement exposed a paradigm that this teacher’s calling was simply a necessary inconvenience that must be endured for the sake of getting to something better. Namely, a long weekend without children.
I am not saying that is what she thought or thinks. I am also not saying I don’t value teachers and the investment they are making in the lives of children – children like my own. My parents were educators and I went to school to be a teacher, and I became a Bible teacher.
What I am saying is that the seemingly harmless statement says something about me, and likely expresses the way a lot of other people think about a lot of different life situations.
Like most jobs in the world, if not all, teaching is a difficult profession, but shouldn’t the teacher see his or her job as a gift, an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others? Shouldn’t I see my calling and job as a special privilege; as an opportunity rather than an unpleasant chore? Shouldn’t you see your job and all of your life as an opportunity to serve others and make a difference? Life may not be all I would like it be, but all I presently have is what I have. For the glory of God and the good of others, I want to make the most of it while I can.
Too often we get stuck in a rut of wishing life away by longing for some better future because we have failed to see that life is a gift from God that no one has earned or deserves. Life is too short to live in a future that does not yet exist and is not guaranteed. Tomorrow is a dream. Today is the only gift I can open and enjoy.
I need to be careful about what I say, but also need to examine my mind and heart. That’s why I say the things I say.
We started a new sermon series yesterday and through the first sermon I wanted to communicate that one of the reasons we don’t speak of Jesus and share the gospel with more frequency is because we have a low view of God. We are not amazed by the presence of God.
So from Exodus 3:1-10, the 46th Psalm and Isaiah 6:1-9, I explained and concluded that “in every case, an unsettling encounter with God of awe and wonder preceded mission to others.” And after delivering the message two times, I felt pretty good about it.
Then came Monday morning, and I thought, “Oh no! I hope no one thought this…”
You can hear the sermon by clicking HERE and the sermon series is called Speaking of Jesus.
Here it is. Here is one implication that I would not want someone to draw based on what I meant.
I would not want someone to conclude they need an awe moment, or a regular awe moment to obey! Sometimes people say really strange and unbiblical things like, “I need to pray about whether or not I need to be a part of missions, or whether I need to speak about Jesus to others.” In other words, they spiritualize to excuse their decision not to trust and obey. A person might need to pray for help to do those things in the strength that God supplies, but they surely don’t need to pray about whether they should do those things.
The Bible is clear that some things are the will of God for everybody, and proclaiming the message of Jesus is one of them.
I would be horrified if someone came away from yesterday thinking, “I should wait to share the gospel until I have some sort of close encounter with God. That’s not what I meant or mean.
What I meant to say or want to say is this: Our lack of speaking of Jesus is very likely proportionate to the wonder we have, or don’t have, in response to God. I believe strongly that one of the reasons we don’t speak confidently about Jesus is because we see God as little and not awe-inspiring. People who have true wonder of God and awe for God, tend to be worshiping and obedient people. They tend to be people who delight to praise the God who captivates them.
Another way to say it is that our evangelism problem is a theology problem. Like looking through a microscope, we look at God through the lens of the world and believe God to be little. Instead, like looking through a telescope, we should have have been looking at the world through the lens of God’s word that we might see Him as He really is: BIG!
Not only do we see this in in the three aforementioned passages, but we see it in Acts 2:41-43, as well as, in Paul’s conversion, his thereafter life and his epistles. The example and call to reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28) of God is all over the Spirit-inspired word and I believe it is closely tied to the desire to speak of Jesus regularly.
Amazingly, many of us who claim to be saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, have a low view of God and we are not amazed by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Ergo, we don’t speak much of Him. Can that be anything but wrong?
A.W. Tozer wrote, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” He is certainly right!
Demons are evil and scary and as best I can tell they are like Tolkien’s orcs – nonredeemable and good for nothing but destruction and chaos. Right? Is there anything good that can come from a demon?
I believe so. As a matter of fact, I am convinced many Christians, and perhaps all, have a lot to learn from demons about reverential awe.
I have been reading Mark with some men and we recently were discussing the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5:-1-20. As we were sharing various insights about the Spirit-inspired text, one man said he was particularly challenged by the reverential response of the demons in Mark 5:6-7. Mark records, “Seeing Jesus from a distance, he (demon-possessed man) ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!'”
There is some debate among commentators as to whether the address of the demon(s) was sincere or manipulative, but I am convinced that the demon was speaking truthfully and reverentially about Jesus because this demon, who self-identified by the name Legion, knew who Jesus was – Son of the Most High God. He also knew Jesus had the authority to torment.
This is not the only example of demon reverence and submission. In Mark 1:21-28 Jesus encounters a demon at the local Jewish church building (synagogue) and the unclean spirit cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who you are-the holy One of God!” In Mark 1:34 the demons were not permitted to speak because they “knew who He was.” In Acts 19:13-16 some “Jewish Exorcists” and Jesus pretenders were throwing around the names of Paul and Jesus in Ephesus to cast out unclean spirits and Luke records: “And the evil spirit answered them and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” By the way, don’t play with demons (See V. 16).
Back to the guy in our Bible reading group. His introspective response to the demons in Mark 5:6-7 was to ask whether the demons had more reverence for Jesus than he did.
How would you answer that question and the following questions?
- Do you know Jesus as well as the demons? The demons who shudder at the Three and One (James 2:19)!
- Do you submit to the authority of Jesus as readily as the demons do?
- Do you have more reverential awe for Jesus than the demons?
That would be a good three point sermon. Perhaps the demons can teach us a thing or three after all.
Most people want to be recognized, and lest you doubt, browse Facebook for 60 seconds. Recently making the rounds on the News Feed is “Ten Things You May Not Know About Me.” Disclaimer: This is not a commentary as to whether “Ten Things” is good or bad, but a mere proof that most people want to be recognized or known.
A new thought came to me this morning in my reading of Mark 3:13-19 – I wonder if James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot felt slighted and unappreciated for their lack of gospel mentions? If the Bible was Twitter, they didn’t get many mentions. We know about the big three: Peter, James and John. We know that Matthew wrote a gospel and his calling by Jesus is particularly told (Mark 2:14). Andrew, Phillip and Bartholomew (Nathaniel) get some air time in John 1:35-51. Thomas famously doubted and believed (John 20:20-29). And then there is the tragic story of Judas Iscariot, “who betrayed Jesus.” (Mark 3:19).
A four-tiered summary might be helpful based on explicit mentions in the gospels and in Acts:
- Peter (Simon), James and John. They are the big three; the inner circle.
- Matthew, the villain/tax-collector turned disciple and author. Judas Iscariot, the treasurer turned villain. BTW, why wasn’t Matthew the treasurer?
- Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew (Nathaniel) and Thomas. Mid-Major kind-of-guys. They are in the story, but rarely.
- James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot. The obscure three. The outer circle. Their names represent about all we know.
A couple of thoughts are in order. First, it is better to be obscure than to be Judas. Enough said.
Second, the obscure three didn’t get their books published, they must not have had the big and outspoken personalities of Peter, James and John, and they probably didn’t get invited to any day-time shows to share the before-and-after story of Jesus.
But they were known by Jesus and even hand-picked by Him (Mark 3:13). They were a part of the twelve and it wouldn’t be the same without them. “The nine” just doesn’t sound right.
Upon further reflection and meditation of Mark 3:13-19, what struck me is not that we know so little about them, but that Jesus knew them and they knew Him. Isn’t that enough? Shouldn’t that fact be enough?
I don’t know the details of these seemingly obscure disciples, but God does, and that is all that matters. I would hope that I, along with every other man, woman and child who belongs to King Jesus, could know the joy of resting in that life-changing fact.
But there is one more insight that I believe to be significant. Though we are each individual parts, shouldn’t we be glad to be a part of the whole? Not everyone can be the part that triggers the identifiable results, but there is a place for the three that completes the twelve. It is not insignificant that though we know Alphaeus, Thaddaeus and Simon by name only, that we do however know about them because Jesus chose them and knew them. They were just as much a part of the twelve as the other more reputable nine. In Christ, we are not obscure, but we are all a part of the body and known by God.
So let us think biblically about ourselves. Doing so will protect us from jealousy and resentment that causes factions and dissension. In Christ, I am not living in obscurity.
Let us think of others according to the truth of God’s word. Doing so will protect us from treating others with the kind of indifference that causes us to think of them and treat them as fourth-tier citizens. In Christ, no one is irrelevant.
Let us think biblically about ourselves within the context of body life. Our identity and recognition as a part of the body (church) of Christ is just as important as any individual notoriety.
Let us think about how Jesus changes the way we see everyone and everything. To be called by Jesus is no insignificant thing.
We humans come up with some fantastical theories and ideas regarding existence and where it might be headed.
In Romans 1:18-23 Paul asserts that everyone is under the wrath of God and will experience the wrath of God (a part from faith in Christ) because they suppress the truth and speculate that there is no God. Paul says God’s existence is irrefutably evident because the creation makes visible the invisible God. So instead of worshiping God, people concoct futile speculations to explain God away (Rom 1:21). Some people are headed for God’s wrath because they ignored God and worshiped people, animals and stuff, committing idolatry.
Some would say Paul and Christians like him are delusional to think this.
What about this possibility?
The History Channel aired a show called, How the Earth Made Man, in which a New York University Professor of Biology describes what might happen if the earth was struck by a cataclysmic event like a Texas-sized asteroid or a “super volcano.” Once humans have become extinct he offers this possible scenario.
“Evolution will start working on the survivors and I might vote for raccoons. They have very nice hands and they are pretty smart, and if they manage to survive the next mass extinction, maybe they would go on to invent or reinvent technology and all the things human beings have done.”
I realize that given enough time a lot of strange things can happen, but that seems like a huge leap of faith (speculation). Of course, this also clarifies how this particular professor thinks humans came to be in the first place – A lot can supposedly happen in 4.5 billion years.
I was sharing this little anecdote with a close friend of mine over lunch and he responded: “Buddy, raccoons are not that smart. I have trapped about 30 of them this year and sold their skins.”
Hmm. If they can’t escape the primitive trap of my friend, how will they escape a mass extinction event? Oh, yes, I almost forgot, evolution will shape the raccoons or whatever is left to the design of the theory.
So we have two different men with two different worldviews. Paul was an intelligent and well-educated man (Acts 26:24). The aforementioned professor is undoubtedly an intelligent man. One of them is right about where we came from and where we are going. One of them is wrong. Which one is more fantastical?
I wish for no one to experience the wrath of God, but it is apparent that some people are asking for it when they have more faith in raccoons than they do in the God who created them.
The same Paul that wrote of the wrath of God on the unrighteous also used creation as evidence in 14:15-17. May we follow his example in boldly pleading with people to escape the wrath to come by pointing to the God of creation.
“Men, why are you doing these things things? ….Turn from these vain things to the living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet God did not leave Himself without witness, in that he did good and gave rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
And what part of this life is not of grace? After all, I can’t earn (buy or pay for):
- Initial existence. God is the sole Creator and life-giver of the universe (Colossians 1:16). Who chooses to be born? Who opens the womb?
- Ongoing existence, which includes our earthly and eternal existence. God is speaking “all things” into being (Hebrews 1:3) without the help of anyone. How much control does any person really have in a dangerous universe, on a disease-saturated earth?
Everything else fits under these two categories, but there are other obvious evidences of unearned favor.
- Who has earned the sun and it’s life giving light and heat?
- Who has earned air for breath?
- Who has earned rain and snow?
- Who has earned the vegetation of the earth that produces food and breathable air?
- Who has earned the earth’s atmosphere with its layers of protection from harmful radiation?
This general revelation tells us more than the mere fact that there is a God. It also tells us He is a God of unimaginable gift-giving. General revelation does not save, but it is embedded with grace that points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Who has paid for these things? Which one of us has earned any of these necessities? None of us, not even one. It’s all grace and yet so many of us try to earn righteousness so we might have favor with God. And some of us, even after we have received saving grace by faith, return to a learn and earn ethic. So many of us don’t know how not to earn.
How do we stop trying to earn?
Perhaps the best way to avoid a debtor’s mentality that infects every part of our lives is to remind ourselves daily that this whole show is a gift. It’s all grace. Every particle of it. Think about these things and remind yourself that it is all grace.